What is a Learning Management System?

A learning content management system (or engine, if you prefer) is a web-based application for managing course communication, collaboration, administration, tracking, and reporting.

The University of Toronto adopted Canvas by Instructure in Fall 2018, after a twelve year run with Blackboard 9.x.

Canvas's features include, for example:

  • modular portal - easy to add additional functionality
  • pluggable content from publishers, peers and specialists
  • detailed tracking of grades, by achievement level, group, or other criteria, with advanced notification configurability
  • advanced learning anaytic system
  • provides multiple types of e-submission and file return, fully facilitating the paperless course (aided by academic integrity tools as necessary)
  • offers a full range of collaborative features and mobile integration with responsive design
  • advanced API which allows integration of third party features
  • written in Ruby, with PostGres database, aided by Redis query acceleration; runs in the Amazon cloud with hosting in Canada. 
  • source code for Canvas openly available on github.

While Canvas represents the most significant Learning Management system the university has adopted in terms of standardization of e-learning features and support, it may be beneficial to note that a few other LMS systems were born at the University of Toronto, notably these three: WebKF, CCNet and ATutor.

- WebKF or Web Knowledge Forum was created at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education by Professors Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamelia, based on their extensive experience observing and experimenting with use of computers in education.  It was reengineered for the web in 1995 by Learning in Motion.  Web KF is now a highly successful commercial LMS product used in 19 countries around the world--particularly strong in pedagogical support for collaborative thinking, knowledge building and constructivism in online learning.

 - CCNet was developed by the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering by Civil Engineering Professor Stefan Zukotynski and other staff.  After many years of development in teaching CCNet was commercialized, expanded to Arts and Science, then replaced by the institution-wide Blackboard May 31, 2008.  CCNet is still used at Stanford and the University of Alberta, but it's probably fair to say CCNet is not a widespread system.  Its main virtues were the stark, no-nonsense interface and the incredibly efficient (although complex) database system that made CCNet ideal for running large numbers of courses with very little by way of server computing resources.

- ATutor was developed by U of T's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, which was renamed the Inclusive Design Research Centre and relocated to OCAD University August 1, 2010.  ATutor is free, fully W3C accessibility compliant, based on open-standards, and is used in thousands of e-learning applications.  ATutor's chief virtue is it's modularity and basis in the Linux - Apache - PHP - MySQL server stack...meaning that interface translations and additional functionality have been created to customize this system for use in almost any situation by the open source learning communities around the world.



Learning Management Systems at Wikipedia: good initial survey article

LMS Comparison of Ontario Universities (Brock University)